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Were ballplayers of the 1950s … sissies?

May 17, 2011, 12:58 PM EDT

Old Hoss Radbourn

While doing what I do quite often — killing time over at Baseball Think Factory — I came across this Sports Illustrated article from 1954.  The headline: “Are Today’s Baseball Players Sissies Compared To The Old-timers?” Seriously!

Predictably, there was the usual assortment of “baseball is going to Hell” voices, two of which actually name-checked Old Hoss Radbourn:  Lefty Grove, Rogers Hornsby, Cy Young, Fred Clarke, Jimmy Foxx and Ed Walsh all thought that the young punks of the 50s were soft and spoiled.  Cy Young’s response was pretty par for the course:

“Yes. They can’t take it. I’ve seen some of them threaten the pitcher when a ball brushed them back. Most rugged old-timers took this as a part of the game. It’s the rule today to use several pitchers in one game. Iron Man McGinnity pitched 55 games for the Giants in 1903. He won three double-headers in one month.”

You can’t see me, but I assure you, I am rolling my eyes.  Still, you’ll be happy to know that not every former great who was asked pulled the “back in my day …” act.

Paul Waner, Al Simmons and Pie Traynor all agreed with the esteemed Herman Jacobs, more or less that the modern player was every bit as tough if not more so than the old timers.  Carl Hubbell and Frankie Frisch were a bit less committal, noting that there were a lot of differences between the modern game of the 1950s and the game back in their day (bonus: both claimed that a “rabbit ball” was in use in th 50s, proving that people have been complaining about jacked baseballs for decades), but at least they seemed to think about the matter rather than just react.

Anyway, I presume that, if I live long enough, I’ll see Jason Heyward and Justin Upton complaining about the players of the 50s one day too. The 2050s.

  1. b7p19 - May 17, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    Thats one of the coolest things I’ve read in a long time. Just goes to show that people back then were spewing the same cliches as the knuckleheads of today. From fishwrap to twitter, it’s the same content. Awesome.

  2. halladaysbiceps - May 17, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    Today’s players are sissies! They do not exude the same toughness as players of a generation or two ago. They need a testicle transplant.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - May 17, 2011 at 1:27 PM

      I totally agree with you, sans the agreement part.

      • halladaysbiceps - May 17, 2011 at 1:33 PM

        Maybe it’s you that needs to have a testicle transplant, then. LOL!!!!

        Common, Heyward, have a little humor!!!

      • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - May 17, 2011 at 1:40 PM

        I’m sure I can find an extra couple in this bag of dicks here. Hold on….

      • paperlions - May 17, 2011 at 1:59 PM

        Damn it! I almost sprayed coffee on my keyboard.

    • ezwriter69 - May 17, 2011 at 3:32 PM

      Anyone who names himself after another man’s body parts pretty much has disqualified himself for questioning anyone else’s toughness…

      • hittfamily - May 17, 2011 at 11:00 PM

        Are you referring to the aformentioned “Pie” Traynor. If so, I believe he was more likely named after a female’s body part.

    • Roger Moore - May 17, 2011 at 10:09 PM

      The players won’t get a testicle transplant; they’ll just take testosterone supplements in an attempt to get the same effect.

  3. Jonny 5 - May 17, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    This is how older people make themselves feel better. Athletes and fans alike find some sort of joy in grandstanding the past and it’s “toughness”. “If I was still young I’d whoop all of these whipper snappers!”

    • halladaysbiceps - May 17, 2011 at 1:19 PM

      Jonny 5,

      I’m sure you were a tough guy when you were arguing with your band leader with what score to play during high school graduation.

      • Jonny 5 - May 17, 2011 at 2:08 PM

        I told you, first ask my permission before addressing me. I’ll let it slide this time. But I couldn’t even get into the band in high school. I only knew how to play my organ.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - May 17, 2011 at 1:23 PM

      J5, seems like you have yourself a scrote barnacle. I have a salve for that, which may work but does leave a bleaching effect behind.

    • b7p19 - May 17, 2011 at 1:27 PM

      It’s what makes old people great.

      • Jonny 5 - May 17, 2011 at 2:02 PM

        That’s only one of the reasons old people are great. I try my best to listen and learn. I’m not kidding in the least bit either. I tend to gravitate to older folks and pick their minds. You’d be surprised of how many new things you can learn from older people.

      • heyblueyoustink - May 17, 2011 at 2:19 PM

        Like Ducolax!

    • kellyb9 - May 17, 2011 at 1:32 PM

      That’s one way of looking at it. The game has certainly changed since then. Pitchers pitched longer and more frequently (and for our AL friends, they also hit). But players are also faster, stronger, and (arguably) better today. I know I’m going to get a lot of a flack for the last one, but I still contend if you put Roy Halladay up against the best of the era, he’d probably stand a good chance of striking him out. Today’s era just has more resources (scouting reports, exercise equipment, supplements..).

      So I guess in the end, you’re comparing apples and oranges. These writers (and old timers) should just enjoy the game and stop complaining.

      • b7p19 - May 17, 2011 at 1:38 PM

        No question about it. Not gonna get flack from me. Players from the 50′s would be amazed at the speed, strength, and size of todays players. This probably more true for football where LB’s of today are the size of the tackles of the past, but I think it holds true in baseball as well. It’s just not as important.

    • heyblueyoustink - May 17, 2011 at 1:39 PM

      The younger generation is plenty tough, like that Beiber kid…….oh wait, we’re talking baseball…….

      Anyways, I think the ball players of today are plenty tough…..it’s not the batters that can’t handle being dusted off the plate, it’s the pitchers not being confident enough to do so……the batters wear the armor because frankly, the investment level of baseball these days is too monstrous not to….

      But to question their toughness? Well here’s one you can’t even argue with Biceps: Cole Hamels, a bar, bikers, and a throwdown…….

      And really, I don’t care what generation your from, that’s tough enough for me

      • halladaysbiceps - May 17, 2011 at 1:49 PM

        The Bieber kid is a perfect example….LOL!!!

        Justin Bieber!!! LOL again.

      • heyblueyoustink - May 17, 2011 at 1:58 PM

        Quit being a turkey Biceps, Alfalfa was yesteryear’s Beiber

  4. umrguy42 - May 17, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    I’m looking at Rogers Hornsby’s comment on it being the fault of the managers, and wondering what he would have had to say about TLR’s management of today’s Cardinals…

  5. Neil Jung - May 17, 2011 at 1:19 PM

    Oh yeah, Cy Young? Well, Iron Balls McGinty once took 55 shots to the jewels and didn’t even blink.

  6. banksatdixie - May 17, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    I’d REALLY like to know who the person behind Old Hoss’ Twitter account is….pure genius.

    • Jonny 5 - May 17, 2011 at 3:09 PM

      I heard Old Hoss was really Yella. He couldn’t even inject his own silver nitrate after visiting his favorite house of ill repute.

  7. WhenMattStairsIsKing - May 17, 2011 at 2:16 PM

    While I do strongly agree that comparing early 20th century baseball to modern day era is moot, I also wonder how some of those guys were able to pitch and complete so many games without destroying their arms.

    The only thing I can think of is how many non-game pitches are thrown these days.

    • cur68 - May 17, 2011 at 2:37 PM

      I bet they did wreck their arms. Plenty of guys who go on to need TJS were still able to heave a ball in the 80′s even when injured. Everyone was talking about Phil Hughs and his declined velocity but he could still touch 90mph. I bet that was plenty good enough to get most guys out back in the day.

      All those old school pitchers with their umpty ump innings pitched never routinely faced guys that could eat their pitching alive because the kind of development and training for hitters wasn’t in place back then. Hitters relied on talent and practice pitchers until pitching machines were developed in the 1960′s (actually some idjit invented one using in gun powder in the 1800′s; caused several injuries. No report on if it was named “Nolan Ryan”). When pitchers did face a guy like Fox, Ott, Dimaggio or Ruth, they got pwned.

    • Roger Moore - May 17, 2011 at 10:29 PM

      What makes you think they didn’t wreck their arms? Plenty of them did. They threw more innings in a season but the same number or fewer in a career, which shows they were throwing fewer seasons at the higher workload. There were a handful of freaks- Cy Young and Walter Johnson being the main examples- who could handle those workloads without breaking down, and that enabled them to put up career totals that are probably unmatchable today. But most of the pitchers in the good old days couldn’t handle the workload and broke down sooner rather than later.

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - May 18, 2011 at 1:54 PM

        I know plenty of them did. What I meant was, I find it amazing any pitcher ever pitched 300 innings and pitched as often as they did.

  8. sasquash20 - May 17, 2011 at 2:59 PM

    You can’t compare todays athletes to athletes of early years. First training knowledge has come a long way. 2nd people have gotten bigger and stronger because of diet. Foods have become much easier to come by in the last 50 years, then in the 50s and earlier. If each generation is bigger and stronger of course there going to be superior today. But if the athletes of the early days were alive now they would be bigger and faster then when they were alive. They would have evolved like man kind has. You really can’t compare. Todays equipment I’m sure is far superior as well. But I do feel people today are softer then they were back in the day. I coach youth sports and kids are sissies today.

  9. APBA Guy - May 17, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    Very difficult to compare eras, though easy to compare results. Part of it is the size of the players, and part of it is philosophy. Take Willie Mays. At 80, he is considered the greatest living ballplayer, an unparalleled combination of speed, power, defense. But by today’s standards he was tiny, 5’11″ and 180, about the size of a modern second baseman (Mark Ellis is listed at 5’10″ 185). Jason Heyward is 6’5″ and 240. When you see Mays at AT&T he looks even smaller, of course, but pictures from his era reveal a build that modern ballplayers would envy, lean, muscular, fat-free. Still, compared to the big boys of today, he looks more like Miguel Tejada of a few years ago than a modern slugger.

    That said, there were a few guys who threw hard in his era, like Bob Feller (98.6 MPH), basically David Price or Verlander with a cold. But a lot more guys throw over 95 now than ever before, a lot more, about double the number from 2000.

    But the biggest difference is in philosophy. You almost never saw a parade of pitchers in games of Mays’ era, and while cheating went on (spit balls, etc), pitcher’s repertoires were pretty basic. Imagine Doc Halladay or Greg Maddux throwing to a team from the ’50′s. That much motion, that much thinking about getting individual hitters out, was much more rare then. And to know that if your starter was running out of gas in the 6th you’d follow him up with 4 guys who only needed to get 2 outs each, that wasn’t done.

    But all this is well established argument. The question is about being sissies. I imagine if you could ask the guys from Valley Forge what they thought of the Army of the Potomac, they’d say “sissies”, what with their tents and regular food, and surviving amputations and all.

    I see 70 year old guys in the gym who can barely walk trying to give 20 year olds advice, and when the kids roll their eyes, the geezers walk away muttering something about “sissies”.

    Every generation does this. But you can’t stop progress. Heyward is as big as an NFL lineman from Willie Mays era. He has to be, because the pitchers are even bigger. 30 years from now we’ll have corner outfielders at 6’7″ and 275 who can run and throw and hit. And they’ll have to be that size, because pitchers will routinely be between 6’8″ and 6’10″. And biomechanically they’ll be flawless, with incredible 02 burn rates, and all the other API measures that will be off the charts. And they won’t be sissies anymore than the guys from 1920 were.

    • b7p19 - May 17, 2011 at 3:29 PM

      You sissie. Back in my day commenters would routinely write 8 or more paragraphs without breaking a sweat.

    • florida76 - May 17, 2011 at 5:56 PM

      We need to be careful in putting too much stock in pure numbers, Jason Heyward hasn’t done anything to be mentioned in the same class as a Willie Mays. The all time great players and teams had something special, and it wasn’t just physical attributes. Progress can’t always be measured in numbers, knowing how to play the game correctly is equally important. So just because so one is big and can run or throw fast, doesn’t mean they will perform that well on a baseball field. Some of these guys like Heyward, just can’t stay healthy. I think a Mays, Aaron, Rose, Brett, etc. would absolutely feast on today’s pitching. Great hitters are great hitters, not even the likes of a Albert Pujols have hit the ball as far as some of the sluggers of the past.

      Sissies would be too strong a word, but the mental toughness of today’s players is a factor. The money, guaranteed contracts, etc. is so different than in previous eras, and we definitely see much more complaining and whining than in the past.

      Yes, relief pitching is better, but how well would a modern team fare using trains as transportation and playing doubleheaders in wool uniforms during the summer? Today’s players whine about wearing sleeveless vests, and the lack of hustle is troubling.

      Overall, the quality of play is slightly better, but that’s it. The 1975 Reds and 1989 A’s were more talented and would have beaten the 2010 Giants in a seven game series.

  10. sportsdrenched - May 17, 2011 at 4:19 PM

    You all are sissies because you have air conditioning!

    (honeslty heard this the other day)

  11. cintiphil - May 18, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    The old time baseball players were sissies ONLY compared to the old time football players! THEY ALL WERE ACTUALLY NUTS!

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